Breathe your way out of panic attacks

Breathe your way out of panic attacks
Drawing by Adrian Serghie

   Have you ever had a panic attack? If so, have you wondered where it comes from? A panic attack (or anxiety attack) is an extreme version of the fight or flight mode. We detect some sort of a danger and our body reacts in a way so it can react to that danger. In reality, of course, there is nothing dangerous.

   When a panic attack occurs, we tend to lose the control of our body. Our pulse goes crazy, we start to breathe very fast and we feel a huge amount of anxiety rushing towards us. Our body is at war with something. Some dizziness can occur because of the fast breathing and that creates even more anxiety.

   In those moments we need to reassure ourselves that we’re in a safe environment and we also need to try to keep doing whatever we were doing. Running away is not an option because since a panic attack is temporary, it will pass once we leave that environment. However, we subconsciously link leaving the environment with the “fix” for that panic attack and in the same time we’ll link the original environment with the panic attack and this increases the chances for the next time to have a similar reaction in a similar environment.

   Besides reassuring ourselves that we’re in a safe place, we need to concentrate on our breathing. How we breathe is the key in an anxiety attack because it controls our pulse as well so breathing slowly will decrease our pulse and the attack is not an attack anymore. This can be done by breathing in for 5 seconds and breathing out for another 5 seconds (as advised here). This will help us get in control of the level of oxygen that goes through our body and reducing it will leave the muscles with less power so the tension will slowly go away.

   Since I know that real life is totally different than the theory due to the emotions involved, maybe is it worth to prepare a safety card to read in those moments of crisis (a piece of paper with the instructions)? It’s easier to read something than to think about something when the attack occurs.

   Have you ever had a panic attack? What strategies did you use to deal with it?

20 thoughts on “Breathe your way out of panic attacks

  1. I had a panic attack once years ago. I was starting a new position within the company I worked for and mentally I wasn’t prepared. Yes, I knew ahead of time that my start date was coming, yet I still wasn’t prepared. All of the new processes, the less than stellar training, and abundant workload freaked me out, but I tried to “fake it til I made it” until I couldn’t fake it anymore. After my training period(which with this company was extremely short), I was on my own to do the work and i couldn’t keep up with the rest of the group.

    The one day in particular, I went on break into the break room and sat there still. My husband worked in the department (But in another group) and he came in for our usual break time; he noticed I wasn’t myself and asked what was wrong which was when I busted out in tears. I cried and cried, my heart felt like it was going to burst through my chest, and my head felt as if it would pop.

    He immediately escorted me back in our department to get my things and he spoke to my manager for me. We went to our doctor (and she wasn’t any real help because she acted as if I made it up smh) I begged her to write me out for a few days and she prescribed me some pills(which I didn’t need). I used the employee assistance program to find a counselor and talked with them for only a day and by the time I was due back at work, I was determined to keep calm while I relearned my new role. But that was the scariest time in my life.

    1. Wow! that must have been tough! Do you remember what was the main feeling you had in that moment (e.g. fear, helplessness)?

      1. I stop thinking…it’s always that simple…and I also start simply to watch myself as I panic…I don’t complain about it…and I do this very rarely and wish to do it every time I get panicked…or freak out…

  2. I have them a lot. With a diagnosis of C-ptsd, I seem to live in fight or flight. My mind can create an entire day of what’s gonna happen, who’s going to do what, and sometimes it really turns out that way. Sometimes not. Therapy has helped and the EMDR during. I do the breathing (in for 5, out for 7), prayer, and the senses grounding.

    1. I guess it’s all about making our body get out of that fight or flight mode which starts with us getting the idea that we’re safe…

  3. It helps to have a safe person to talk or pray you through it. Prayer is my go to. Relaxation techniques- if possible a warm bath with calming oils. An oil that brings me peace is peppermint. I’d say find what brings you peace before the storm and try to lean into those.

    1. That’s true! And this is part of the self-developing process. We need to know what triggers us and what calms us down in any aspects of our life, not only for panic attacks.

  4. The panic attacks that I have experienced have seemingly come on for absolutely no reason. So not only are the panic attacks themselves upsetting, with no apparent cause there seems to be no obvious solution. This makes things worse.

    I used to explain to people what panic attacks feel like by saying, “It’s like if you jumped out of a 16-story building and changed your mind halfway down.”

    Several years later, the panic attacks intensified. So, the example changed to, “Did you ever see Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom? Do you remember that scene where the dude had his heart ripped out of his chest by the priest and then was put in a cage and slowly lowered dream into the pit of fire and his heart was going PTUMP, PTUMP, PTUMP, PTUMP in the priest’s hand? That’s anxiety!”

    The only way I was able to get through it was to self-soothe until it passed.

    1. “I used to explain to people what panic attacks feel like by saying, “It’s like if you jumped out of a 16-story building and changed your mind halfway down.” What a fantastic description.

  5. This has occurred a lot while I’m driving. A couple of times I’ve had to pull over because I’m unable to move on until the attack passes. Breathing is very helpful as is meditation music or pure just stop what you’re doing and breathe.

  6. I had nothing to say to myself. My cognitive ability was impaired by the panic. All I could do was curl up on the couch underneath my comforter and maybe eat something as it subsided a little. I was unable to receive comfort from having my husband hold me. Hearing his heartbeat freaked me out and made it worse.

      1. Oops, I accidentally hit the button. They would last for half a day. When they were Indian Jones level, it lasted for an entire month. All day every day. From the moment I woke up to the moment I fell asleep. There was no relief from it. After 2 weeks, I called my dr crying and pleading for help. He prescribed an anti-anxiety medicine that took 2 weeks to start working.

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